Coatesville Army & Navy owner to retire

After more than 90 years of family ownership, store hopes to find new owner


Judy Skolnik, owner of the Coatesville Army & Navy store, announced plans this week to retire from the store she and her family have operated for more than 90 years.

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

COATESVILLE — By their nature, all endings are new beginnings.

And so Judy Skolnik is confident that whomever takes over for her after she retires from owning the Coatesville Army & Navy Store will be a big part of the bright future that is coming for the downtown blocks around her store as a vibrant redevelopment begins to take shape over the next very few years.

As the operator of a family-owned and managed business — one that has been a mainstay of the city’s shopping district for more than 90 years — she gets a little emotional when she talks about retiring just as finally things are truly looking so bright for the area.

“It was a really hard decision,” she said, but she said she wanted to be able to spend time with family and on other pursuits while still young enough to enjoy them. Also, she wanted to be able to manage the process — move on with the business still healthy and while she was still healthy, too, and not be forced into a sudden, rushed move at some point down the road.

As the last such store in the county, folks from Kennett to Phoenixville would travel to the store to be able to buy its sturdy merchandise.

Still, as one of the few long-time city merchants to hang on as others abandoned the downtown, she is wistful about leaving just as a new and exciting era is under way.

“I am going to miss it,” she said. “I will miss my coworkers, of course, we’ve all become great friends and very close over the years. And we’ll miss so many of the customers who have become like family to us.”

But Skolnik said she is very confident that if a younger, more tech savvy person buys the iconic store — she’s looking to sell the building and the retail operation — they can turn it from a nice business into a potential regional powerhouse, with just a bit more aggressive marketing and a more extensive Internet retailing presence. With everything from a building in a prime location and in good shape to a solid inventory opportunity and trained staff, the business truly is a turn-key opportunity for the right person.

With the likely increase of economic growth — between the planned redevelopment at Lincoln Highway and Route 82, other plans to renovate and repurpose some of the amazing buildings adjacent to the store and the coming new train station, the opportunity for real growth is going to be there, she says.

“I am extremely happy that Coatesville is coming into its own again,” she said, noting what an impressive success the Grand Prix — held this past weekend — turned out to be.

Skolnik admits that retailing has changed a lot in recent years — first by the the advent of the Exton Mall, which started the decline of local downtown retailers. Then came big box stores that came on the the scene a couple of decades ago, where price trumped customer service (and in some cases, product quality) and then in recent years, the Internet.

Ironically, malls are now on the decline (see the closure of the Granite Run Mall and the massive redevelopment (more entertainment, less retail) needed to keep Exton Square open —  as downtowns are beginning to see a renaissance, already in evidence in West Chester, Phoenixville and Kennett Square — with Coatesville seemingly the next big thing.

Skolnik is sure of it — and hopes to turn things over to a person who shares her passion and optimism for the city’s future.

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